The beauty of the NBA is there is not a lot of time to dwell on losses. The league has “graciously” given the Mavericks their first back-to-back, starting tonight against the Sacramento Kings before heading to Houston to face the new-look Rockets.
Wednesday night yielded a whole gamut of emotions. Dennis Smith Jr. looks like a star in the making, and Nerlens Noel put on a show in limited minutes. On the flip side, questionable rotations played a role in a disappointing fourth quarter, and the Mavericks’ defense looked atrocious.
But such is life in the NBA, and the Mavericks need to move on quickly. The team has a tough opening slate of games, so a win tonight against a young Kings team is imperative to not falling into a hole like last season.
Here’s what to watch for as the Mavericks look to get into the win column.
Dallas struggled defensively in many areas against the Hawks. Atlanta’s high shooting percentages were buoyed by 56 points in the paint. The Hawks out-rebounded the Mavericks 54 to 46, which included the 14 offensive rebounds the Mavs gave up. All in all, the Mavericks lost the first game of the season down low.
It won’t get much easier tonight as the Kings long, athletic fives come to town. Led by Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissier, Dallas will have a tough time matching up with the active, young bigs the Kings boast. Dirk is a fine rebounder, but running the floor with athletes like Cauley-Stein will pose a problem. I’m not sold on Dwight Powell being the answer as he played 14 minutes last night and got as many rebounds as you and me. It will be a collective effort to rebound, limit second chance points and protect the paint, and it will be a big key to the game.
Dennis Smith Jr. versus De’Aaron Fox
In what figures to be the first of many battles, we get to see two of the top five point guards selected in the 2017 draft square off in the regular season. The Mavs and Kings battled in the Las Vegas Summer League, but Fox only played seven minutes before sitting out with a sore ankle. Smith Jr., on the other hand, put up a cool 25 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Fox seems to be in a timeshare with veteran George Hill but still scored 14 points, dished five assists and grabbed four rebounds in 24 minutes of action Wednesday. Due to matchups, I imagine we won’t see as much one-on-one between Fox and Smith Jr. as we’d like, but when we do, it should be a good litmus test. And even though Junior has a big enough chip on his shoulder, incentive to show out against the team who passed on you is worth the watch itself.
Buddy Hield could be a problem
When news broke that Seth Curry was out indefinitely, the natural reaction was to reflect on losing an offensive threat. Wednesday night might have shown how valuable and underrated he is defensively. Against the Hawks, Dallas allowed Marco Belinelli to go off for 20 points and can four three pointers. Ultimately, defense is a team effort, but the Dallas guards failed to corral the veteran sharpshooter. Curry is not a lock down defender, but his defense was missed.
Hield is a gunner, like Belinelli, and could give the Mavs just as much trouble. Does Smith Jr. get the assignment allowing Yogi Ferrell to guard Fox or Hill? Maybe Devin Harris gets some extra run at the two for defensive purposes. Either way, it will be interesting to see Rick Carlisle use his roster of seemingly only guards and bigs to match up with traditional shooting guards like Hield.
Who sings the national anthem?
This one is all in good fun and only applies to those lucky enough to be at the game. The Mavericks need to bring in the big guns for this one because at the Kings home opener the dulcet sound of Lil Jon’s (not autotuned I would assume?) voice filled the arena as fans honored our country during the national anthem.
sac went all-out for the opener pic.twitter.com/Sq2Mwq1bTt— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) October 19, 2017
Who could the Mavericks bring in? The East Side Boyz?
How to watch
The game tips at 7:30 p.m. Central and will be televised on FSSW and NBA League Pass.